TORONTO – The Italian job is underway at Toronto FC.
Domenico Criscito took part in his first Toronto practice Friday while fellow Italian newcomer Lorenzo Insigne trained separately indoors.
Toronto coach Bob Bradley, whose team hosts the Seattle Sounders on Saturday, said Insigne is recovering from a calf injury picked up in Europe prior to his arrival here.
“It’s day-to-day,” said Bradley. “When players come halfway through the year, especially if they’re carrying a little, small injury, it’s important to make sure that the return (to play) is handled really well. So we’re going to be on top of that and try to move it along the smartest way.”
Toronto has a lot invested in the former Napoli captain, whose four-year deal makes him Major League Soccer’s highest-paid player — eclipsing the US$8.13 million that Chicago’s Xherdan Shaqiri is making this season
Insigne emerged from the training centre to pose for photos in TFC colours. Criscito, the former Genoa skipper, took time out before practice to greet a group of some 20 fans behind a fence at the training ground.
Both players are eligible to make their debut July 9 against the visiting San Jose Earthquakes after the league’s secondary transfer window opens July 7.
The 31-year-old Insigne, a forward, will wear his trademark No. 24, which Canadian Jacob Shaffelburg gave up this season for the Italian. Shaffelburg now wears No. 22.
Criscito, a 35-year-old defender whose normal No. 4 is taken by captain Michael Bradley, will wear No. 44. Raheem Edwards and Omar Gonzales have worn 44 in the past for Toronto.
“We know what they’re like as players. You really want to know who the man behind the jersey is,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono. “They seem like good guys.
“We have a really good camaraderie among the group with veterans and young guys. Everyone seems to be really comfortable at this moment in time. We’re hoping that they can integrate quickly and kind of grow that culture that we’ve started in the locker room.”
After losing 2-1 midweek to a familiar foe in the Columbus Crew, Toronto gets a rare crack at Seattle on Saturday.
It’s their first meeting since the 2019 MLS Cup final, won 3-1 by Seattle in its home stadium — a championship loss that was followed by a two-season Toronto tumble down the standings.
Toronto and Seattle have met just 14 times in league play (with the Sounders holding a 9-3-2 edge in the series), compared to TFC’s 40 encounters with Columbus (the Crew leads the series 17-11-12).
Seattle has won the last three meetings, with Toronto’s last victory coming in the 2017 MLS Cup final, a 2-0 win for TFC at BMO Field.
“Any time you see Seattle on your schedule it brings back memories,” said Bono. “It brings back some good times and some times that hurt a little bit more.
“Obviously they’re always a dangerous team, no matter who they have on the field, no matter how their season’s going.”
The stakes aren’t as high Saturday with Seattle, seventh in the Western Conference at 7-7-2, arriving five points ahead of Toronto, 12th in the East at 5-9-3.
“Seattle is still a top team. They proved it winning the (CONCACAF) Champions League,” said Bob Bradley. “Very experienced. Guys that have been together, play with a hard edge.”
After a 2-5-1 start to the season, the Sounders have found their rhythm, although they saw a four-game unbeaten run (3-0-1) end in a midweek 2-1 loss to visiting CF Montreal. It was the first defeat for the Sounders since May 22.
Seattle has lost just two of its last eight MLS contests (5-2-1) despite missing star Peruvian forward Raul Ruidiaz and Ecuador defender Xavier Arreaga in recent matches with hamstring issues.
Ruidiaz, who has led the Sounders in scoring the last five seasons, has been out since June 14 with a hamstring injury.
Toronto failed to convert a slew of scoring chances against Columbus, with young Canadian striker Ayo Akinola pulled at halftime after just 11 touches.
“Ayo didn’t give us enough the other day,” Bob Bradley said bluntly. “He and I spoke about that after training today. He has ty be more engaged in the game, has to have a greater presence.”
But in Akinola’s defence, Bradley said Columbus’ low block did not give the forward much space to operate in.
“Those kinds of games, as a young forward, are challenging,” he said.
Wednesday marked the 25th straight league game that Toronto has allowed a goal. There have only been six longer regular-season stretches without a clean sheet in MLS history.
TFC, 0-5-3 on the road, is also one of four teams yet to win away from home in league play this season (along with Colorado, San Jose and expansion Charlotte).
Seattle has also been spotty away from home with a 2-4-1 record to rank 16th in the league. The Sounders have won just two of their last 11 road matches (2-6-3), dating back to last October, and have lost three of their last four away (1-3-0).
Seattle has kept just one clean sheet in its last 15 away matches, dating back to last August.
Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg and defender Carlos Salcedo, who both missed the midweek game, trained Friday. Westberg is listed as questionable after taking a knock to the knee in last weekend’s 2-1 win over Atlanta. Salcedo had been dealing with a family matter, according to Bradley.
“We’re hopeful that both can be available,” said the coach.
Midfielder Noble Okello remains out.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2022.
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